What Is Religion?


Religion is a collection of beliefs, practices and rituals that promote a sense of morality and community. Most of the time, it involves a belief in something supernatural or spiritual. Some people, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, argue that Religion fulfills some psychological or emotional needs, such as the fear of death or a desire for meaning in life. Others point out that religious belief and practice can help solve social problems, such as out-of-wedlock births, crime, drug abuse, poverty, prejudice, and poor health.

Traditionally, scholars have divided over how to define Religion. Some have used a “substantive” definition, which looks for any kind of beliefs that are held to unite a group into a moral community. Others have argued that this approach is too broad, and instead adopted a “functional” definition, which focuses on the role religion plays in human society. In either case, these definitions are based on the classical view that every instance of a concept will have one defining property that places it in a particular category (see logical analysis).

More recently, scholars have begun to adopt an “open polythetic” definition of Religion, which considers crisscrossing and partially overlapping features that might be found in different religions. This type of analysis draws on the notion that some of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ideas, particularly his notion of “family resemblance” (see prototype theory). It also takes into account that a functional definition might not be accurate enough to accurately describe all instances of Religion.

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